Formal scheduling, the practice of dividing the school day into fixed chunks of time, is the single greatest impediment to educational innovation. This is the view of Larry Rosenstock, the founder of the highly successful K-12 network of charter schools called High Tech High, and it is the starting point for the change process advocated by OPERI. The pilot program described here involves a group of 25 secondary students of mixed ages who work on their required courses free of the bells with the teacher acting as a facilitator.
Through developing the skills of independent learning, and learning in community with others, students acquire the credits they would otherwise get through the regular program. The program runs for the first semester of the school year, and if the results are encouraging, it can be repeated the following year.
Significant advantages to the OPERI pilot:
- It is equitable. It runs in community schools making it an option for all students.
- There is virtually no risk to students. They enrol for only one semester and obtain their credits towards graduation. The teacher monitors the students’ progress and helps to ensure that they maintain their grades.
- Students and teachers choose to participate in the program which eliminates the resistance caused by imposing change on people.
- Students are immersed in the skills required for independent lifelong learning. The 4C’s (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication), which employers have identified as important for success in the workplace, are among the skills cultivated in the program. Imagination and innovation are two related qualities that also receive attention.
- The program requires students to assume greater responsibility for their learning, which helps to prepare them for the transition to college, university or the workplace.
- The program can be implemented by reallocating existing resources. No new funding is required.
- The program provides an opportunity to be a member of a learning community characterized by equality and diversity, where everyone is a learner and a teacher.
- By not being limited to only the courses that fit the formal timetable, students can better pursue their interests.
The mechanics of the OPERI program
- The main ingredient for the program is an enthusiastic principal who is well respected by his or her staff.
- Second is an enthusiastic teacher, a lifelong learner full of the joy of learning and who is well respected by the students.
- With these two people in place it is not difficult to obtain students for the program. The criteria for students to enrol is that they are dedicated to coming to school to learn and committed to cultivating a learning community.
- The program requires one classroom and one teacher. It can work well with two teachers assigned half time.
- The classroom is organized according to how students think it can best suit their needs.
- Outside the classroom, the students are required to follow all of the same school rules as other students, and they participate as usual in extra-curricular activities.
- In February, when secondary students choose their courses for the following year, those enrolling in the program simply register for it for the first semester. Later they can determine which four credits they will work on in the program. They will choose in the normal way their four courses for the second semester. Deciding on the courses they will take through the program can be done anytime up to the start of the program, which has advantages. Watch our blog posts for an article on these advantages.
- At the start of the program, students are required to study the Ontario Ministry of Education documents outlining the objectives for their courses. With guidance from the teacher, they develop and execute their learning plans taking into account every possible resource in and out of school, online and off, that can help them accomplish their goals. As the students plan their agendas they are encouraged to look for ways that they might integrate their subjects. Course outlines, timelines, banks of assignments, tests and textbooks, used by regular students are made available to students in the program. By assuming the responsibility of designing their own learning agendas, students become better positioned to make a smooth transition to college or university, and to effectively undertake independent learning tasks throughout the rest of their lives.
- For evaluation purposes, students in the program are required to write the same final exams as their counterparts in the regular program.
- The classroom will often be a hub of activity that can look like chaos to people accustomed to quiet classrooms with students paying attention to the teacher. On closer inspection, one sees that the commotion stems from student engagement.
Learning competencies developed through the pilot:
- analytical reading
- time management
- teamwork and living as a community of learners
- communication skills
- identifying learning styles and how to design for them
- discovering and utilizing the full range of available resources
- how to prepare independently for tests and exams
All this in addition to what is learned from the ministry courses.
The Cultivation of a Community of Learners
The pilot program works to create a learning community that nourishes students’ innate desire to learn and expands their view of all that there is to know. The celebration of diversity is key. The more diverse the learning environment, the more likely a student is to be curious and to enthusiastically pursue interests. Age-mixing is one of the most effective ways to enrich a learning environment. The pilot program can work with students from a single grade, but it is bound to be more successful with a mixed-age group.
The pilot program provides opportunities for educators to learn about:
- the skills students need for independent, lifelong learning
- how these skills might foster creativity and critical thinking
- the role of teachers as facilitators
- how to effectively apply the Principles of Learning
- how the cultivation of learning communities might mitigate bullying
- how age-mixing unleashes a powerful resource
- how the celebration of diversity in learning communities invites inclusion
- how technology can support the self-directed learner
- how schools-within-schools are a key to meeting the needs of everyone
- how students adjust to being free of the bells and then readjust back into the traditional system
- how, with the help of systematic research, traditional school systems can transition to a better model
- and ultimately, how to properly provide for the wellbeing of students.
The potential of the proposed program to shed light on how to move to a new age of learning is considerable and worthy of investigation. Contact us if you are interested in discussing the possibilities of undertaking a pilot program in your area – email@example.com.